“…And when the Jews laid wait for him, as he was about to sail into Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia.” Acts 20:3
If they weren’t stoning Paul, having him whipped, throwing or running him out of city after city, the unbelieving Jews were trying to kill the guy. Many times in the book of Acts, we see this, and Paul sums up all of these things as part of his testimony in his letters to the Corinthians. He writes that he was “in deaths oft” (2 Cor 11:23), and that a part of that was that he was “in peril of his own countrymen” (2 Cor 11:26). On this occasion, the Apostle catches wind that the Jews are going to try to kill him. His plan is to get back to Jerusalem with the gifts from the churches he has been to as quickly as possible. He has with him representatives from each church carrying these gifts (Acts 20:4), and he does not wish to keep them from their fledgling churches any longer than necessary. Once the gifts are delivered, they can return freely home and aid in the continuance of the growth of their respective home churches.
Yet, Paul realizes that he should not be in such a hurry as to basically get himself killed over it. Here is a man who speaks at least two languages fluently and knows the scriptures better than most of his Jewish brethren. He is highly intelligent, to say the least, and on top of this, he is a Spirit filled Apostle, led by the Lord in the path he should walk, having been directed by God’s hand through his first two missions, and now, here in his third, he has been given a choice. God leads him through Macedonia to Greece, and now, the shortest route would be to sail as he had on his previous missions, but he hears of this plot, and, instead of praying about what to do, and instead of relying on his education to think his way through, Paul makes a simple choice in common sense and decides it best to simply avoid sailing, thereby taking away the opportunity from the Jews who planned to kill him.
This is important to note because, sometimes, God will lead us, or allow us, to walk right up to face the very same type of choice in our lives. However, our warning is not generally made in the physical. God can do that, and He does, but most often, what we receive is a “check” in our spirit that something isn’t right. The Holy Spirit gives us this “check” because one of His responsibilities is to convict us of sin. Since, Jesus said that the very thoughts in our heart are sin, we can easily see why we get a “check” before we ever perform the physical sin. The problem is that the vast majority of us are not as sensitive to it as we should be. We have ignored the “check” in the past and so when it would serve us well in the present, we have become numbed to it. So, then what should we do, if we are not sensitive to the Holy Spirit in all things He desires to lead us in?
Paul shows us that we need to make a choice. If we know that our own weaknesses can be found by doing one thing that leads to the actual sin activity, we should not do the thing that leads to it. Further, if there are places where our weakness is commonly found, we should avoid those places. As an example, if we are prone to drink and get drunk, then perhaps we should avoid the bar scene. Or, if we are prone to gambling, then by all means, we should avoid the casinos. Whatever the sin is that besets us, there is usually something or some place we associate with it. Simply put, we should just give up those things and places, at least until we have walked long enough with the Lord to know and trust Him with it. Christ is our victory over all sin, but if we are not fully trusting Him, and living hidden in Him, then the choice to avoid would be wise. The sin that lays in wait to kill us will not be able to do so if we do not place ourselves in the position to be overcome by it.
Now, the true issue is in our heart, and that Truth was addressed by Christ. When we make efforts like these to keep ourselves from sinning, we are not addressing the real issue, which is the sin in our hearts. The Jews recognized that if they avoided opportunity to sin, they would avoid sin. They made a series of “fence” laws that were designed for this very purpose. That’s why Jesus told us it’s a heart issue, and though we might avoid the physical sin, we’ve already committed it in our heart. So, what do we take from this dichotomy?
We should allow the Holy Spirit, through our faith in Christ to change us from within. This is the plan of God. But, we know ourselves, and our weaknesses. We should put our faith, not in what we do, but in what He already has done. However, we should still not give ourselves the opportunity to sin against Him. It’s very simple. Trust God to help you avoid sin. Avoid sin to learn to trust God more, which helps avoid more sin, which helps us learn to trust God more, which helps avoid more sin… Just keep believing in Jesus, and let the changes happen, and watch the choices get easier in time. God will guide, but we must choose. Free will is always a piece of this life. We always have the choice to either sin or not. Choose wisely.